Full credit to the 250,000 people who marched peacefully through the streets of London this weekend, that they care enough about the way the country is governed to do so. No credit to the berks who occupied Fortnum & Mason, by the way, inconveniencing at best and frightening at worst entirely innocent tourists, and shop workers who are probably low paid, are certainly not the cause of the problems they protestors are complaining about, and are already having a shit weekend by having to work it.
But I never join these marches, however much I admire the commitment of the people who do. It's not entirely down to apathy, there are two main reasons in my case. Firstly, almost inevitably in these things, apart from when there's a large crowd drawn from a specific social group such as the students, you end up with a disparate group of people who have vaguely similar sets of ideals and ways of thinking about politics, government and society. So you get a whole wide range of different agendas being pushed, different slogans being chanted, different aims from the protestors and different views on what form that protest should take, with some being more fond of direct action than others. And there's always the element of those who join in looking merely to cause trouble, stir up direct action against authority generally, any authority or establishment figure, however poorly defined that may be. And then there's the group who are there just to break shit. Anarchists, class war activists, and people who simply enjoy smashing things up. So with all those different ideas and motivations going on, it's inevitable that the central message, the original reason most people were there in the first place, gets watered down. It certainly doesn't get covered by the media in the way people would hope. You can imagine the turmoil in the mind of the newsman agonising over whether to show Miliband's speech or shots of Fortnum & Mason getting trashed. Quite so - none at all. An unequal contest if ever there was one. "Miliband, you'd better start throwing some petrol bombs or something pretty sharpish or we're cutting back to F&M for the next round of fois gras jar throwing."
Secondly, and much more importantly, it simply doesn't change a damn thing. Ever. "But if the government sees so many people rallying against the cuts, sees the depth of feeling out there, they MUST change their mind." Not so. I accept that some protests have forced councils to make some concessions over spending cut plans in various parts of the country. But, firstly, that's the councils - mainly local people making decisions about spending in areas they know, that affect people they know. And secondly, the councils can't change the government's policy, they can't change the general ideology behind the cuts. Nor can, or will, the protests. When have they? Poll tax riot in 1990, 200,000 people on the streets. Change? Nothing. Only three years later, under a new PM, was the tax was finally changed. Fifteen million people protested against the Iraq war in 2003. Didn't change a damn thing.
And the fact is, the Tories simply don't care about the votes of the type of people who frequently make up the bulk of the numbers in many of these marches. I realise there will of course have been some Tory voters in such a large crowd as gathered this weekend, but in the main, it's the same type of crowd as were protesting against the poll tax, against the wars in the Middle East and so on. Tory loyalists they ain't.
Tory ideology is not about listening to or understanding the concerns of this sort of demographic. Never has been, never will be. They are simply not going to change their spots when they know there are not enough votes even in that group of 250,000 to make any difference to them in the long run. The only hope of success is to trust that the Lib Dems can be swayed by such feeling and pressure that, in turn, pressure from them on the Conservatives to moderate the cuts can be brought to bear. So far, though, they've been little more than lapdogs to their 80's-style, Thatcherite Tory masters. Who's heard so much as a peep out of them lately? When was the last time you saw Nick Clegg make a speech or a statement of any importance? He's basically toeing the line, or he actually agrees with the depth and pace of the cuts as they're currently formulated. They're not going to do anything about it, meaning all those people who gave up their time and money to come and make their feelings known have completely wasted their time.
The only power we have is at the ballot box. Ultimately, the politicians are slaves to those little crosses on bits of paper - in Britain, punishment for complacent, uncaring, incompetent or stale governments has been meted out forcefully that way during my lifetime, most notably in the 1997 election. So I don't march, because I don't think it'll do any good. But I always, always vote. If enough people vote for change when the time comes, it will put the relative power of the vote and the march into very sharp contrast.